'MILLER TIME:' AN ANGER THAT'S HARD TO BEAR
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- With all the tragedy we've had this year, Katrina and Iraq and Pakistan and Alstead, N.H., et al, nothing has angered me more than the case of The New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
Miller, the Bush administration's cheerleader for the war in Iraq, is the reporter who recently went to jail for 85 days, ostensibly to protect a source and the First Amendment.
At issue was who, at the White House level, had made known to a select number of journalists the fact that Valerie Plame, wife of Bush administration critic Amb. Joseph C. Wilson IV, was a secret CIA operative. The leak was pure hubris, the kind of "We're so powerful we can get away with anything," Karl-Rovian action that we've come to take for granted from President George W. Bush and his ilk.
A special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, subpoena Miller and several others to learn the identity of the leaker. Miller refused to testify. And off went the Times' top reporter to the Alexandria Detention Center in Northern Virginia, where, we are to understand, she had a difficult time sleeping on the extremely thin mattresses.
Here's where things stop making sense, especially if you read the Sunday's Times' long report on the events, along with Miller's own justifications for herself.
First, it turned out that Miller's source, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief aide, had signed a waiver allowing Miller to testify long before she went to jail. So why didn't she testify? Because, Miller wrote, she believed "that nothing short of a personal letter and a telephone call would allow me to assess whether Mr. Libby truly wished to free me from the pledge of confidentiality."
Okay, then, why didn't she pick up the phone and ask him? "She said she felt that if Mr. Libby had wanted her to testify, he would have contacted her directly," wrote the Times. So like a schoolgirl pining for the school's star athlete, Miller sat by the phone and waited rather than call him first. Sorry, this is not a First Amendment issue.
Next, Miller's jail term had a end date - it was either her testimony or Oct. 28, the date that the Grand Jury expired. She left jail on Sept. 29. Why didn't she wait it out and really be the Free Speech Joan of Arc martyr the Times was aching for her to be?
Maybe it was those mattresses, but she finally reached out to Libby "to see whether or not (he) had had a change of heart." The truth is that many people believe the Grand Jury investigation will be extended, and Miller could have been trapped into some serious jail time.
There was also a concern that Libby was slyly hinting - in his waiver, and then, finally, in his phone call to the jail - that Miller should not implicate him. "Ms. Miller said in an interview that she concluded that (Libby attorney) Mr. (Joseph A.) Tate was sending her a message that Mr. Libby did not want her to testify," the Times wrote. Tate called the implications "outrageous." And remember, Libby had already outed himself.
So Scooter called Judy, "And there was kind of like an expression of genuine concern and sorrow," she said. Like he loved her after all! Kind of like it was all worth it!! Hearts and flowers! Cue the swelling music!
So Miller left jail, took a shower, ate a steak, testified the next day, and is now off trying to score a book contract. She leaves behind turmoil in the Times newsroom, which was prevented by its own editors from reporting on the story, allowing it to be frequently scooped. She also leaves what's left of the Times' reputation trampled on the newsroom floor.
And thanks to the Bush administration, another great institution bites the dust.
Ever since that gang of Darth Vader imitators took over the United States five years ago, I have watched as almost every single institution and ideal I hold dear has been stomped on and destroyed. The country has endured the willful destruction of its forests, strip-mining of its mountains, pollution of its air, the introduction of church into state, wanton and illegal warmongering, the destruction of creativity in its schools by forcing every child into the same test-driven mold, the hatred and contempt that its actions have engendered abroad, the disgusting rip-off of its treasury that has caused an unconscionable deficit, the smirking reward of billion-dollar contracts to incompetent cronies, and so much more. Now, I imagine, since they're having so much trouble getting people to enlist in the armed forces, Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are probably discussing how a few well-placed nuclear bombs could go a long way to solving their problems in Iran and North Korea.
Well, maybe they saved a few fetuses along the way, and what's the destruction of a country or two compared to that?
Because I'm old (and in the way), and because I'm a journalist, and because I'm passionate about newspapers, I truly, truly believe that their threefold mission is to speak truth to power, to speak for the American people, and to be the last line of protection for the public good. And I am angry at the Bush administration for stonewalling and manipulating the media for propaganda purposes, and at Miller and the Times - the nation's best newspaper - for allowing themselves to be so used. It has brought me to a grief, fear, anger and contempt that I can hardly bear.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.